One of the many instances of genuine hospitality that I've experienced over the years in Halifax came last March when Bill MacLean, who is a driving force behind CIS/AUS exposure in Atlantic Canada, invited me onto the webcast he was hosting for SSN Canada to provide halftime commentary on a couple of the first round games on Friday. Bill has been the play-by-play voice of the Dalhousie Tigers for several years and is a driving force behind sportsstream.ca a website focused on Atlantic Canada sports. We welcome Bill to our cishoops.ca team, covering AUS/Halifax-area CIS basketball and we look forward to his input going forward. Bill has allowed us to add his AUS mid-season power rankings story, highlighting among other things the tremendous job UPEI's first-year Head Coach Tim Kendrick has done with the Panthers, undefeated thus far in AUS league play.
1. UPEI Panthers (6-0, 12 pts, 2nd place)
Think coaching doesn't matter in University Basketball?
May I present Tim Kendrick to dispel that notion.
The high school legend from the Nova Scotia valley has taken a core of players that perennially underachieved and turned them into the best team in the country nobody knows about.
The Panthers sprinted to a 6-0 record and second place in the AUS and they still haven't come close to reaching the national rankings.
Any doubts about the Panthers legitimacy were vanquished when they swept Acadia in a two game set in Charlottetown last month.
6'6" Manock Lual has been stellar, averaging 19 points and 7 rebounds a game. Donathan Moss has come out of nowhere to average 20 points per game, and 6'2" fifth-year wing Jonathan Cooper has blossomed under Kendrick, averaging 19 points per game.
UPEI is shooting the ball at a 47 percent clip and out-rebounding their opponents by an average of ten boards per game.
The Panthers will be a major attraction at the Rod Shoveller Tournament and a possible semi final match up with the X-Men has AUS observers very excited.
2. Saint Francis Xavier X-Men (5-0. 14 pts, 1st place)
Once again the X-Men are the most beloved AUS team within the Canadian coaching fraternity.
The coaches have voted Steve Konchalski's boys to second place all season right behind Carleton, and the X-Men have received alot of first place votes as well.
For the majority of the term, the X-Men lived up to the hype. They looked a little sluggish in some surprisingly close games in Antigonish against Cape Breton and Dalhousie, and they survived a classic at the Tower versus a determined Saint Mary's team.
But when on point, the X-Men have looked very much like a national contender. CIS Athlete of the week (Dec.4) Jeremy Dunn has shown the way with scoring and leadership, while Terry Thomas has become the most exciting player in the conference and a force on both ends of the floor. Dunn and Thomas are combining for close to 45 points per game.
Shane Coupland has done a dutiful job in the post and Coach K has reloaded the line up with a seemingly never ending batch of athletic, talented guards.
The X-Men continue to wreak havoc with their patented full court defense and lead the conference in turnover differential.
It gets better for X-Men fans.....Bol Kong is set to make his debut next weekend at the Rod Shoveller tournament.
3, Acadia Axemen (2-3, 8 pts, 4th place)
The darlings of last year's Subway AUS Championships have struggled to regain the form that carried them to a berth in the CIS Final 8, but still rank third at this point due to their unlimited potential, and the strength of their first term schedule which included a heartbreaking loss to Saint Francis Xavier in overtime.
Any chance of Acadia being legitimate contenders ride on the shoulders of 3rd year post Owen Klassen. Many pundits expected Klassen to be the front runner for Player of the Year, and while he has been one of the top players in the conference, hasn't quite dominated like we thought he would.
Klassen leads the conference in rebounding, and is averaging a very healthy 17 points per game.
Perhaps the major storyline for Acadia has been the disappointing performance of its supporting cast. Justin Boutilier, Anthony Sears, and Thomas Filgiano have combined for a paltry 20 points per game, while Alex McLaughlin has been relegated to bench duty after being a fixture in the startling lineup last season.
On the positive side, Tyler Scott is the early favorite for Rookie of the year averaging 16 points per game and dual athlete Sean Stoqua has been electrifying from the three point line shooting over 50 percent since joining the team after the football season.
Acadia is the best defensive team in the AUS surrendering only 75 ppg, and expect Steve Baur's Axemen to hit stride at some point this winter and make a serious run at a bye for the Final 6. They'll get an early test after Christmas when they play UPEI in the opening game of the Shoveller.
4. CBU Capers (4-2, 10 pts, 3rd place)
The past four months has probably seemed like a year to the Orange Army.
The abrupt resignation of Head Coach Jim Charters temporarily threw the Capers season into chaos, but CBU made an outstanding decision to bring in the steady hand of Thom Gillepsie to settle things down and the venerable bench boss has done just that.
The Capers nearly started their season with an upset win on the road over their chief rivals before the X-Men woke up in the second half, and then lost in overtime in Sydney to the Tigers.
Since they have reeled off four straight wins with an impressive two game sweep at UNB, and routs of Dalhousie and SMU at home.
The Capers aren't as intimidating as they used to be with the losses of Phllip Nkrumah, Paris Carter, and Tremaine Fraser, but they are still as deep and athletic as most teams in the country and led by a certifiable star in Jimmy Dorsey.
Think James the Third is just a three point shooter? Dorsey is averaging nearly a double double (21 ppg / 9 rpg), is shooting 85 percent from the free throw line, and could be the early favorite for AUS MVP. As a rival AUS coach told me, " Dorsey is amazing, and the Capers are very good."
Considering that the Capers could easily be undefeated right now, they are looking very much like contenders for Semi Final Saturday at the Subway AUS Championships.
5. Saint Mary's Huskies (2-5, 6 pts, 5th place)
At the holiday break of Ross Quackenbush's final season, it appears the legendary bench boss once again has a team that appears on the cusp of making a charge to Semi Final Saturday come March.
The Huskies suffered an upset loss to the Memorial Seahawks on their opening weekend and a blow out loss to the Capers in their final game of the term, but in between they nearly knocked off the Panthers in Charlottetown and the X-Men at the Tower.
Quackenbush has his signature motion offense flowing in full effect as the Huskies are third in scoring averaging nearly ninety points per game. Unfortunately that's the identical number the team is giving up on defense and a major reason why they already have five losses in the standings.
The Huskies are extremely athletic, have the best shooting percentage in the conference (.533), and the highest three point percentage (.380).
Tory Fassett is a candidate for AUS MVP and has Huskies fans asking, "Joey who?"
Fassett is averaging 23 ppg, 6.5 rpg, and shooting over 60 percent from the floor. Plus he's a monster on the defensive end averaging two steals a game and usually draws the toughest assignment.
As always the Huskies are alot of fun to watch, but if they are to become legitimate contenders they'll have to start "getting after it" on the defensive end of the floor.
6. Dalhousie Tigers (1-4, 2 pts, tied for last place)
The defending AUS Champs are either a reloaded team on the brink of making noise at the Subway AUS Championships, or a rebuilding squad that could be on the outside looking in as March approaches.
If not for an upset over the Capers the Tigers would be winless on the season and in last place. But Tigers faithful will quickly point to their brutal first term schedule and their near upsets of St. FX and Acadia as signs the team could make a run.
There is no shortage of athleticism on the roster, but their defense has dropped significantly allowing 87 points per game one year after they locked teams down on route to the title.
Highly touted transfer Casey Fox has struggled, and they seem in dire need of someone to take charge down the stretch of close games, a roll that Simon Farine filled for the past four years.
Robert Nortmann has played like a man possessed and in the best shape of his career. Nortmann has stepped into the big shoes left by Joseph Schow and averaged 17 points and 6 rebounds a game.
Opposing coaches will be looking in their rear view mirror carefully and hoping the Tigers don't figure things out before the season ends. John Campbell's group of dynamic athletes could easily pull off an upset at the Final 6.
7. UNB Varsity Reds (2-4, 8 pts, tied for 4th place)
Brent Baker's hard working troops have run into a major snag on their way to becoming an AUS contender.
They can't score.
The Varsity Reds are last in the conference averaging 73 points per game nearly 6 points behind 7th place Acadia. It wouldn't be a big deal if they were still locking teams down with their signature half court defense, but Baker's boys are surrendering nearly 87 points per game.
The Reds are shooting an abysmal 37 percent from the floor and are last in the conference in assists with only 13 per game.
They christened the beautiful new Richard J Currie Centre with two wins over Memorial to start the season but have lost four in row and been outscored by an average of 21 points per game in the process.
Things could get worse. The Varsity Reds start the second term with a two game set at St FX, then finish out the month playing UPEI, Acadia, and Cape Breton.
Good news for Reds fans, UNB has five home games in the critical final month, and five games versus SMU and Dalhousie, two teams they will probably be battling for a playoff spot. Also, Daniel Quirion is having a stellar season nearly averaging 20 points per game.
8. Memorial Seahawks (1-5, 2 pts, tied for last place)
The problems that plagued the Seahawks last season have surfaced once again in 2011/12.
Memorial doesn't defend well allowing 90 points per game, they struggle on the boards, and they turnover the basketball too much.
Offensively they are fun to watch, led by Robbie Habib (22.7 ppg), Mike Helsby (16.7 ppg), Jason Shepherd (15.8 ppg), and Mark Woodland (14.3 ppg, the Seahawks average 85 points per game. They also lead the conference in foul shooting with a robust 77% average.
Expect the Seahawks to pull off a couple more upsets at home, but they'll be hard pressed to stay in the playoff hunt as the season progresses.